People on dialysis have enough problems without having to worry about heart attacks. But it seems that the nation’s leading supplier of dialysis products (mostly through its own dialysis centers) may be causing an untold number of dialysis patients to have heart attacks and other cardiac problems.
Fresenius Medical Care creates two products for use in dialysis—GranuFlo (a dry acid dissolution system) and NaturaLyte (the liquid version). Patients who need dialysis have problems with kidney function. One of the side effects of kidney problems is that the body builds up acid in the bloodstream. To treat this, physicians often prescribe bicarbonate. If you remember your high school chemistry (I didn’t), bicarbonate can neutralize the acid.
The problem with GranuFlo and NaturaLyte is that some of the ingredients can be converted by the body into bicarbonate. If the physician doesn’t know that, then the patient can receive a double-dose of bicarbonate. Too much bicarbonate can cause cardiac problems, like heart attacks.
Fresenius is the first to admit that this is a problem. Well, they are the first to admit to themselves that it is a problem. The company sent an internal, confidential memo to doctors at its own dialysis centers in November 2011. It wasn’t until the FDA got ahold of the memo, received from an anonymous source, almost five months later, that Fresenius warned all of the other dialysis centers who use GranuFlo and NaturaLyte.
Lest you think that the warning wasn’t important, Fresenius acknowledges that, in 2010, there were 941 patients who had heart attacks at Fresenius dialysis clinics. It says nothing of the number of patients in non-Fresenius clinics who suffered the same fate. Fresenius could have informed other doctors at those other clinics that there was a GranuFlo and heart attacks might be related (or, even if they weren’t 100% sure, a potential problem). That’s what you do when you want to be safe. It’s not what you do when you want to make a quick buck and place profits over people.
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